Monday, October 3, 2011

Denim Quilt Tutorial

**DISCLAIMER**If you are either my eldest daughter or my daughter-in-law and it is before Christmas of 2011, BEGONE. You do not have my permission to view this blog entry. Go away! For any of you who KNOW my daughter or daughter-in-law, I'm swearing you to secrecy, ok? This is a Christmas gift and I'm only posting this because I'm fairly certain that neither one of them have any interest in reading my blog. Okay, on to the upcycling! :)

It's no secret that I have a longstanding affection for blue jeans. I LOOOOVE a well-worn pair of jeans; there is nothing more comfy in all this world to be wearing, in my humble opinion. It's also no secret that I am a tightwad cheapskate fan of all things frugal. I love quilts, but I do NOT love the price of buying yards and yards of pretty fabric to chop up in teeny tiny pieces. It quite literally causes me pain to do that. I also do not have the patience for piecing small bits of fabric together in intricate patterns. Sorry. I just glaze over. Oh, I love quilts--just not the work it takes to get the gorgeous finished product! Besides, have you noticed how many little people live at my house? We're rough on things. Any quilt I make has to be able to withstand the roughness that a family of our size and activity level is capable of dishing out.

Enter the "upcycled" (I've learned this is the new, politically-correct word for what we used to call something that is recycled to make something new, back in the dark ages) blue jean quilt. I saw the idea fifteen years ago in a Country Woman magazine for a simple, boyish quilt made from squares of old jeans and plaid flannel, constructed with exposed seams so the edges would fray in the wash. I made one for my son to put on his bed, and I was instantly hooked. That quilt has been wonderful! He took it with him when he moved into the barracks once he joined the Army, because it was the warmest blanket we own, bar none! It accompanied our family on camping trips, beach outings, picnics, it went with my husband when he was deployed to Kuwait, and it is just as good now as it was when I made it! I have since made two more--one was a simple one with baby fabrics for one of our girls (we will be keeping it to use for grandbabies!) and another was a rather tedious and time-consuming (but absolutely BEAUTIFUL) cathedral windows quilt, made of a bunch of circles that were sewn together in squares. Even the description makes my head hurt. I actually killed a sewing machine making that quilt!

Anyhoo, considering I have two adult children who are beginning their married lives this year, what better Christmas gift to the new couples than a handcrafted denim quilt of their very own, made lovingly by Mom!? Thing is, I don't really want these quilts to be run-of-the-mill, boring and unattractive jean quilts. Let's face it--if you Google "jean quilt", you'll come up with some pretty bland and *ahem* ugly images. I want them to be something that my kids will be proud to take on a picnic with their families for years to come, not something they hide in a closet just to bring out when it's frigid! So off I went in search of some pretty flannels to back my squares of chopped-up old jeans with.

This is a truly "beginner" quilt--no turning, topstitching, binding, batting, Nothing but simple straight lines! For anyone interested in re-creating my project, here is a step-by-step look at the process.

The first thing you need to do (I did this while washing and drying my flannel yardage) is get your jeans cut up. I'm too lazy to do seam-ripping, so I just cut along the leg seams to get a long, flat segment to work with. I then cut the plastic cover of a Five Star spiral notebook into an 8" square to use as my template. I traced around the template with a ball-point pen (shoot, you could even use permanent marker; the edges are going to fray in the wash anyway, you won't ever see that ink again!) and then cut the squares out of the denim. I was able to get three squares from each leg segment (a total of 12 squares per pair, give or take for extra-low pockets or skinny jeans). Apologies for the lint all over my carpet. Jeans make a big mess when you cut them up!

You will then repeat the process (minus the old jean-ripping-up) for the flannel. Trace, cut. For this particular quilt, I needed 63 squares of denim, and 63 squares of flannel. (note the big pile of jean shards in the background--this is a very messy project!) 

The next step is to marry up your flannel and denim, wrong sides together. Yes, it helps to enlist the services of your resident black ragdoll cat to "assist" in this task, but I do advise against partaking in the buttered popcorn until you are finished. It will make your squares greasy! I did this while watching a movie with the hubs. Kept my hands busy. The reason I've got them alternated on the stack is to make it easy to grab a 'set' when you go to do your stitching.

Once you have all of your fronts and backs aligned, run a stitch around all four sides, with a "just a hair bigger than" 1/4-inch seam allowance. I've made quilts with a 1/4" allowance and they just didn't have enough space to fray well enough for my tastes. Mine was almost 1/2"; it doesn't have to be a specific measurement, just be sure you use the same seam allowance for each seam. Don't worry that every teeny little edge doesn't meet up perfectly; denim quilts are very forgiving, and the beauty really is in the imperfections. That fraying will hide any cutting inconsistencies. 

A bit out of sequence picture-wise, but very important to the process--determining HOW you will piece your quilt together. I knew I wanted the quilt 9-squares long by 7-squares wide, which is how I came up with the total of 63 squares. I quick-sketched a few possibilities for how I'd put it together just so I could get a quick glimpse of what it would look like, roughly. I think for this particular quilt, I'm going to use the far right sketch. The flannel print I chose is a bit more elegant and begs more of a formal-ish pattern. When you do your sketch, bear in mind that what is on the back will be the reverse of what is on the front! In my sketch, the colored blocks represent denim, while the white squares represent the flannel. When I get the other quilt finished (I'm pretty sure I'm using the middle sketch for that one), I'll show you what it looks like, but I won't repeat the entire process.

When you have all of your squares stitched you need to lay them out (you'll need a LARGE surface for this) in the pattern you plan on using. Mind your fronts and backs; make sure you have your darks and lights in a pattern that pleases you and that your prints are aligned in a way that you can live with. You will have the opportunity to change it slightly while you're sewing your strips, but this is your only opportunity to see how it all works before it's stuck! You'll notice that in my pre-stitching layout, I deviated slightly from the sketches. What is laid out in this picture will be the front of the quilt.

When you are satisfied with your layout, you will need to get the squares picked up in sequence so your strips fit together in this same pattern. Start from one end, place the first square on top of the next, then the next, then the next, and so on to the end of that line. Do the same with each line, and then stagger-stack them so you have (in my case) 7 stacks of 9 squares, all lined up ready to be sewed. When you piece them together, it'll all fit together nicely! Stitch one strip at a time (back sides together), sewing just to the inside of your original stitch. If you stitch on top of or to the outside of that stitch, the stitching will show on the backside. Not the end of the world, but not exactly desirable either. Remember, you want all of your exposed seams on the FRONT of the quilt. You will eventually end up with a stack of strips:

To stitch the strips together, you will HAVE TO pin. Do NOT try it without pinning. You will be doing a lot of seam ripping, I assure you. Match up your intersections and open the seams up. An opened seam, two strips together, will look like this (only less blurry!):

Pin through that seam intersection in such a way to hold it open so you can stitch straight across it.

As you stitch across the opened seam, double-back and reinforce the center. If you don't, you will increase the likelihood that the stress of the heavy fabric will open that seam back up. Get all of your strips pieced together (and in doing so you will find out just how HEAVY and WARM this quilt is!!!), and you will have something that looks like this:

Not so pretty just now, but it will get better, I promise. You'll need to wash and dry it three or four times for it to fray and fluff properly. FIRST, though ... you've got to get through what I think is the most tedious detail--snipping the edges. Take a GOOD pair of fabric scissors (not pinking shears) and make perpendicular snips every inch or so along every single exposed edge. Don't go through to the stitch line, because that stitch is going to give the fraying a stopping point. A bit of warning about this step--you are going to have to be snipping for a LONG time. It's maddening. Resign yourself to the fact that you are going to HATE this quilt by the time you get all that snipping done. You *can* skip this step, but you'll end up going back to do it anyway because your edges won't fray well unless you do this. It will also take you several more washes (and a lot of cutting of long, stuck-together strings) to get it right. It's worth the effort, I promise. Snipping it like this BEFORE it's washed the first time will give the frayed edges a "ruffly" look to them that you will not get if you skip it and go back and do the snipping later after it has started fraying. I can't quite explain why that happens, but it just does.

Done? Good. Dress your blisters with band-aids and get that quilt to the washer! You won't need a long wash cycle, and you don't need to wash it on hot, but you do need a good amount of agitation. I do not recommend washing it with anything except maybe jeans. This thing is going to SHED!!!! Whatever you do, make sure you NEVER wash it with a towel--you will have fuzzies and denim shrapnel on your towels forever. This is the ball of lint that I scraped out of my washer after just the first wash cycle--this does NOT count what is stuck on the quilt going into the dryer! You can't quite grasp the scale, but I'll tell you this--it took TWO hands to hold this wad 'o' fluff.

Dry it (no need for fabric softener), being SURE to clean out the lint filter at least once DURING every drying cycle, and then again afterward. This thing makes a LOT of lint. After you dry it, snip off the strings so all the seams are even again (leave the fraying, just even up the edges!), then wash and dry again. And again. And again. I usually repeat the wash/dry/snip cycle about four times. It's worth it. Really. See?

Here's the view of the back side--not as pretty as the front, but still kinda cool looking (at least I think it is):

Best part? I paid about $20 per quilt, for the flannel (5 yards per quilt) and thread. The jeans were either leftovers from our this-doesn't-fit stash, or throwaways from others. I have purchased old jean castoffs from the clearance racks at thrift shops for a dollar a piece, but it's much easier just to keep a running pile in the corner of your closet as you get rid of them yourself!

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Tip Junkie handmade projects

3 comments:

Karima said...

Oh this is great! I have never seen a jean quilt before I love it! Newest follower, Karima www.karimascrafts.com

Ronni Alvarez said...

Awesome! May I ask (newbie seamstress here) what type of thread did you use? and what size needle? what settings did you use on your machine?

Belinda King said...

FYI.... I have made a number of these with flannel. I learned the hard way....wash it inside of a large laundry bag that you wash sweaters in for the first couple of times. Shake it out outdoors before putting in the dryer.

In washing machines there is a clean out trap and when it gets packed with small things that should not go through washers...like massive amounts of small threads and massive amounts of lint that is from rag quilts... it can cause your washer to stop functioning as it should. Get out your washers manual and learn where the clean out trap is so it does not cost you a few hundred dollars for a service call. There might be youtube videos if you do a search. :) Voice of experience.

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